I hope that these Understanding Government websites, and the accompanying book, will be found interesting and helpful by public servants around the world. Some will wish to compare their approaches to public administration to that of the UK. (I understand that the British civil service is now the only civil service in the world to remain totally unpoliticised in its upper reaches.) Others may wish to learn from the UK. Either way, I would be glad to add further material - and especially different international perspectives - to this site. Please do contact me if you have any relevant material.
Useful international comparisons, including of public sector employment and pay, may be found in the OECD's annual publication Government at a Glance
And Oxford University's Blavatnik School of Government publish an annual International Civil Service Effectiveness Index.
I have also come across two interesting books which are a good starting point if you are interested in public administration around the world. One is published by the OECD. The other is a work by two very perceptive academic writers.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has a "Public Governance and Management" team who help governments rethink their role to meet the challenges faced by globalisation, decentralisation, new technologies, and the changing needs, expectations and influence of citizens. All their work is of very high quality, but their publication "Government and the Future" (ISBN 92-64-18448-1) is particularly interesting.
Those particularly interested in the government of developing countries will wish to read "Governance, Administration and Development" by Mark Turner and David Hulme (ISBN 1-56549-070-3). They begin by making the strong point that:-
"Many processes and factors have been identified as contributing to the differing levels of achievement [of development goals] and prominent amongst these has been the argument that public sector organizations have often performed poorly. They have failed to provide politicians with sound advice on policy, have taken on inappropriate roles and have been both inefficient and corrupt ... Of equal significance is the argument that countries that have experienced rapid sustained development .... have had effective public sector organizations."
They go on to make the following points - rather better than I do in my own book:-
- "Policy is also about decisions ... and decisions are about power. Sometimes such expressions of power may be revealed in the capacity not to act, the "non-decision".
- Policy is also purposive behaviour, although officially stated goals may mask other intents, and rationalizations ... may come after decisions have been made and actions taken.
- Policy is made by human agents and we need to understand their behaviour. For this we need to appreciate that these agents have multiple, often conflicting and sometimes changing political goals and that they may enter and exit the policy process at different stages.
- What must be banished is any lingering idea that policy is some highly rational process in which expert technicians are firmly in control using highly tuned instruments to achieve easily predicted outcomes. Such an image is inappropriate for OECD countries let alone the developing world ...."
Finally, they caution that
"[The ideas] that appear in [their] book are indicative of diversity and creativity. There is no 'one best way'....What has been successful in one place may be inappropriate in another..... However, there has been a recent trend towards convergence in public sector reform with the rise of 'new public management' or 'reinventing government'. The danger is that the variety of offerings on the reform menu may be greatly reduced and the propensity to experiment may be actively discouraged."
Nearer to home, I very much enjoyed reading a report by the Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation which benchmarked the UK Department of Trade and Industry against their opposite numbers in Germany. (The report was republished in 2002 by the Industry Forum, together with a Foreword, Preface and numerous detailed appendices. Martin Stanley has a hard copy of this report, in the unlikely event that anyone needs to refer to it.)
Here are links to some useful sources of international information - and do please let me know of others so that i can add them to this list:-
- The Commonwealth Secretariat
- The European Union
- The European Commission Civil Service
- The British Politics Group is a nonpartisan research organisation interested in improving the development, communication, and dissemination of knowledge about British politics. It has existed for over 30 years and consists primarily, but not exclusively, of academic political scientists in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries, notably Canada and Australia. Many of the leading scholars of British politics worldwide are members.